12/19/2020, 10.33
UZBEKISTAN
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Tashkent, religious communities subjected to whims of authorities

The new law that is about to be passed has only minor changes. The burdensome bureaucratic process to ask for official registration remains, with the risk of fines and torture. Shiites, Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses have applied for registration without success.

Tashkent (AsiaNews / Forum 18) - A new law on religious activities is under discussion in the Uzbek parliament. But many communities see no improvement or lightening in the multitude of permits and controls necessary to exercise their religious freedom.

The country already has a very stringent law on religions. Forum 18 (F18) sources say the only slight change between the existing one and the new law will be that communities can apply for recognition with a minimum number of 50 members; previously 100 members were required.

Instead the ban on exercising one's faith in unregistered communities remain; the ban of any missionary activity remains; as will the difficult and complex path to obtain recognition.

This last element makes it almost impossible to register the communities first of all due to the bureaucratic mess to go through, but then because very often the authorities refuse to grant permits and recognitions on a whim, without any explanation.

F18 mentions some cases that have occurred in recent years.

Shia communities, for example, have no registered mosque. In 2019, the Bukhara Shiites applied for recognition, but the police visited the most active members of the community and lobbied for the withdrawal of the application. Questioned by F18, a government official said that "the Shiites have never submitted any application for registration".

Since 2018, several Protestant communities have continued to apply for recognition. They did it again in 2020, but it was turned down. And the authorities also refuse to give the reasons for the rejection.

Similarly, Jehovah's Witnesses in Tashkent and Ferghana were refused registration.

For their part, Catholics and Orthodox think they are not going to recognize any new communities.

Some communities complain that when their members go to the authorities to ask for recognition, they are punished with fines and torture for their "past crimes", in short holding religious gatherings without permission.

International human rights organizations have long been demanding that Uzbekistan adopt a law on religions that respects universal criteria. This would mean removing the distinction between "recognized" and "unrecognized" communities and allowing the communities to gather even without recognition.

Another point would be the lifting of censorship on the production, import and distribution of religious material. Finally, that the conditions are specified, so that the authorities cannot apply the law arbitrarily, based on generic interpretations.

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